Grade:  B/B+
1967-78, 806 min. (16 episodes), Color
TV variety
Time Life
Not rated (would be TV-G)
Aspect ratio:  1.33:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Bonus features:  B

‘Tis the season when shoppers look to “Best of” lists and compilations as a gift-giving resource, and this latest Time Life release of The Carol Burnett Show is certainly gift-worthy. The six-disc DVD set contains 16 full episodes of the long-running variety show, plus an interview and two featurettes originally made for the full series DVD set. Rich-looking and nicely packaged, The Best of The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Edition seems designed not for the obsessed fan who undoubtedly owns or wants the full series on DVD, nor as a stocking stuffer for casual lovers of old-time TV or variety shows whose curiosity could be sated by a smaller collection. This one seems aimed at fans who fondly remember the star, her supporting cast, and those memorable recurring sketches—though not fondly enough to plunk down the money for the complete set.

What’s nice is that the very first and very last episodes are included, and people who haven’t seen the show will be amazed by Burnett’s opening Q&A sessions with the live audience. Yes, there’s a lot of repetition, but it’s also a showcase for Burnett’s quick wit and improv talents. And an episode featuring the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson doing his thing as a very young man is going to be a hit with all ages.

The only lump of coal is, I’m not sure how Time Life can call this a “Best of” compilation when two of the series most infamous episodes aren’t included. Gone is Episode #8 from the 10th season, featuring the Gone with the Wind parody “Went with the Wind” —an episode so iconic that TV Guide named it #53 on their list of 100 Greatest TV Episodes and The Smithsonian Institution asked for the dress that Burnett wore so that it could become a part of their permanent pop-culture displays. Also missing from this “best of” set is Episode 20, which featured one of the series’ funniest sketches starring Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, with Conway playing the patient in a dentist’s office. That’s one of the negatives; the other is that the comedy sketches hold up for today’s audiences much better than the musical numbers do.

Still, as recently as 2013, TV Guide ranked The Carol Burnett Show in its top 20 on a list of  “Greatest Shows of All Time,” and this was a variety show featuring songs and sketch comedy at a time when variety shows were on the decline. Yet it still drew a dedicated following for 11 years. As Burnett says in an interview included in this set, “Some of the sketches, if they were done today on television, they would hold up. Some of them would not. Some were awful, and some were really good.” The bottom line, according to Burnett, is one I agree with: “The sketches that were funny are still funny.”

Even a sketch skewering TV commercials is funny because the pay-off punch-lines are funny though viewers don’t know the context of the commercials that are being spoofed. With a sketch like “The Bat and the Beautiful,” you don’t have to know that the title alludes to an old Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas film. Among the funniest and most accessible is a spoof of Gothic films and the Dracula legend. And with “Ye Tonight Show” you don’t have to be familiar with the late-night legend to get the costumed other-era gags.

So what’s included here?  I’ll list them by episode, airdate, guest stars, and main sketches (since the sketches hold up infinitely better than the musical numbers, with one exception . . . more on that later):

#1, 9-11-67. Jim Nabors. V.I.P.: Shirley Dimple, Ski Lodge, Broadway Medley, Carol and Sis.

#25, 3-4-68, Imogene Coca, Mel Tormé. Walter Windrum’s Wonderful World of Women, The Bat and the Beautiful, Carol and Sis: Anniversary, Finale: The Olympics Story.

#30, 5-13-68, Family Show. Carol and Sis, Harvey’s Fan Club, Kitchen Commercials, The Old Folks.

#105, 10-14-68, Bobbie Gentry, George Gobel. Elevator Blackout, V.I.P.: The Duke and Duchess of Wormser, The Neighbors, Carol and Sis: House for Sale, Ye Tonight Show.

#109, 11-18-68, Sid Caesar, Ella Fitzgerald. Carol and Sis: PTA Show, Classic Movie Theatre: Mrs. Magnificent.

#305, 9-29-69, Nancy Wilson Bernadette Peters, The Burgundy Street Singers. V.I.P.: Mae East, Fireside Chat, Carol and Sis: Laryngitis.

#420, 2-1-71, Rita Hayworth, Jim Bailey. The Brown Derby, Tearjerker Theater: Lovely Story.

#423, 3-1-71—Tim Conway, Pat Carroll, and Karen Wyman. The Lone Ranger, George and Zelda: WWI Flying Ace, Carol and Sis: Sisters Galore, Dog’s Life (Conway).

#507, 10-13-71, Ken Berry and Cass Elliot. Television Commercials, Metro Golden Mouth: Sonja Honey in Love in an Avalanche (Vicki as Tallulah Tantrum), George and Zelda.

#618, 2-3-73, Family Show. Bifocals, Carol and Sis: The Old Flame, The Old Old Movie: Waterloo Bilge Pts. 1-2.

#722, 3-16-74, Roddy McDowall, The Jackson 5. The Family: The Reunion, The Carpenters, short film of Roddy getting Planet of Apes make-up on, Jackson 5 sing “ABC-123” and “Dancin’ Machine” with Michael getting his dance groove on, and in a sketch, Glendale Music School with Burnett as a substitute teacher).

#811, 12-7-74, Tim Conway, Steve Lawrence.  As the Stomach Turns: Inflation, The Stake Out, I’m Not a Doctor.

#906, 9-13-75, Jim Nabors. The Hollow Hero: The Pony, Mr. Cool, Manhattan Transfer, The Family: Eunice Splits.

#913, 12-20-75, Steve Lawrence. Stella Toddler and The Oldest Man: The Shoe Store, The Late Late Movie: Flora, The Cafeteria

#0007, 10-30-76, Roddy McDowall. Mrs. Wiggins: Buzz Off, Medican Documentary, The Lift, The Morning After

#0124, 3-29-78, Series Finale. Family Show. Mrs. Wiggins Flashbacks. (mostly music); Movie Takeoffs: The African Queen/The Murderer Always Rings Twice, The Doily Sisters, Favorite Moments, The Family: The Psychiatrist, Outtakes.

Featurette: 11 Years of Laughter on The Carol Burnett Show (27 min., from the complete set)

Featurette:  The End of 11 Years: Saying So Long

Interview: Carol Burnett

All in all, as I said, it’s a very gift-worthy bundle—even if it’s not a true “best of” compilation.

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